Tag: Common Crossbill

A raptor day; Bespoke Kielder Safari 28/03/2016

by on Mar.30, 2016, under Kielder, Otter

I love the Northumberland coast, and my obsession with the North Sea and it’s wildlife is well documented, but I always look forward to the drive west – away from the sea and into forests and remote moorland…

I collected Jeanette and Simon for their second trip with NEWT, following the Otter mini-Safari on Sunday, and we headed across through Alnwick, Rothbury, Thropton, Elsdon and Otterburn.  As we approached the dam at the southern end of Kielder Water I could see a bird ahead of us flying towards the reservoir.  It was flying directly away from us but it’s a fairly distinctive bird from any angle…and the Osprey hovered over the water, plunged, surfaced with a large fish and flew along the dam wall, pursued by an angry mob of Common Gulls as 6 Roe Deer grazed just outside the cover of woodland beside the North Tyne 🙂  With occasional breaks in the cloud, and brief interludes of warm sunshine, it seemed a good time to find a suitable spot to sit and look over the forest…which worked just as planned with Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Goshawk all making it on to the day list as a flock of Redwing called overhead 🙂

The drive from forest to moorland produced excellent views of a Dipper as it submerged in a fast-flowing stream, and then the moors produced another excellent crop of birds.  Ravens, big impressive and noisy flew overhead, pairs of Common Buzzard seemed to be everywhere we looked, Red Grouse played hide-and-seek with us as they emerged from cover only to vanish again within a few seconds and three more raptors made it seven species for the day.  Kestrel is still a regular bird on many of our tours but the other two were real scarcities; a pair of Merlin were calling noisily just behind us as a male Hen Harrier ghosted across the moor below us.  Then he started skydancing 🙂  That would be a treat enough, but the bird that had prompted his display came into view…not the female harrier we’d expected, but a second male!  The two tussled briefly in the air just above the heather before both drifting out of sight.  Wild Goats were remarkably confiding close to the road as we headed back towards lower ground and trees.

Back down in the forest and a female Common Crossbill was a nice find as the high-pitched songs of Goldcrest and Treecreeper pierced the air, Goldeneye displayed out on the water as a drake Mandarin sat quietly behind the bankside vegetation and Grey Wagtails bobbed along the muddy edge.  Another wildlife-filled day out with clients who were great company 🙂

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Dreich; Kielder Safari 17/03/2015

by on Apr.01, 2015, under Kielder

Dull, overcast, drizzly, misty, cold, miserable…the sort of day that makes Kielder a place where you really have to work for your wildlife sightings.

I collected David from Byrness and we headed into the border forests.  After his coastal holiday with us in 2013, and a Farne Deeps pelagic trip in September last year, I was looking forward to meeting up with him again.  One look at the weather told me this wasn’t likely to be a good Goshawk day, but it’s always worth trying 🙂  The ‘phantom of the forest’ did remain elusive, but another Kielder speciality put in an appearance with a flock of 15 Common Crossbill chipping away noisily around the forest drive.  A Roe Deer crossed the track ahead of us, and we headed across the border.  A tumbling Raven was demonstrating its prowess, Red Grouse popped up and down in the heather and, probably the highlight of the day, a pair of Hen Harriers soared over the moor; the female unobtrusive and low over the heather, her mate an enigmatic ghostly grey against the dark background.  Common Buzzards circled against the sky and, above one of our favourite Goshawk sites, a Peregrine soared over a clearing between plantations, all muscular menace and effortless grace.

Even the days that don’t look promising still hold excellent wildlife 🙂

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Kettling; Kielder Safari 23/04/2014

by on Apr.25, 2014, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

The alarm went off at 06:00 on Wednesday, and my heart sank as I looked out of the window…heavy mist, not ideal for any of our tours, but particularly not good for a day in Kielder.  I drove to Kingston Park to collect Steph and we headed west in much more promising conditions; low cloud in some valleys, but some sunshine too.  We collected Paul and Trish from Wark, and then Ivan from Tower Knowe and headed into the forest.  It was a bit cool and misty for any raptors to be up and about, but two Common Crossbill flew by and the air around us was filled with the descending silvery cadence of Willow Warblers as Woodpigeons, Stock Doves and Carrion Crows caused a brief quickening of the heart rate as they flew between plantations.

A walk to the Bakethin reserve produced lots of Siskin, and Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Teal, Oystercatcher, Cormorant and Common Sandpiper were around the water’s edge.  As we got back to the car park, which provided good views of Treecreepers, Paul spotted a raptor high overhead, and binoculars resolved it into the impressive shape of an Osprey.

Over the border into Scotland we were soon encountering Common Buzzards, lots of them, and a remarkable number of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits.  We reached our picnic spot and, as soup, sandwiches and carrot cake were consumed, raptors began to appear above the skyline.  First Common Buzzards, then a female Hen Harrier, followed soon after by a skydancing grey male 🙂  Then more Common Buzzards, and more Common Buzzards At one point we had between four and six birds behind us, while higher up the valley at least ten were kettling in one thermal along with a Peregrine 🙂  Absolute heaven for any birdwatcher who enjoys raptors…and who doesn’t?  Along the stream Reed Buntings were pretending to be Dippers, but we did eventually find the genuine article, which obligingly bobbed up and down on a rock before diving into the fast flowing water, and Wheatears were perched on old stone walls.  On the hillsides high above the valley bottom, Wild Goats were grazing as we enjoyed close views of Common Buzzards both perched and flying, and Red Grouse were found as we crossed the moors back towards England.

We finished the trip with an uncountable number of Chaffinches and a real Northumberland speciality as a Red Squirrel ran around on the ground before deciding to hang upside down on a peanut cage, and it was time to reverse the route and drop everyone off.

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Would you like to stroke my Badger?

by on Mar.06, 2013, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

On Saturday I was in the Kielder area with Sarah, collecting our new mountain bikes from Ian at The Bike Place. The weather was glorious; blue skies, sunshine – everything you would want on a day there with clients.

Skip forward to Sunday morning…

I collected Jon and Alison, Jill and Steve & Laura and Nicola from Hexham and we headed north towards the Border Forests.  The weather was somewhat different; overcast, not even a slight breeze and the air was damp and bitterly cold.  In those conditions the forest is an ethereal place, remote, other-worldly and an experience in itself.  Mistle Thrushes and Chaffinches seemed to be everywhere that we looked, Common Buzzards were sitting hunched on tree-tops and telegraph poles, Roe Deer crossed the track ahead of us and the only Common Crossbills of the day were a group of four that flew by as we were trying to locate a very vocal Raven. Then, a very nice policeman stopped and showed us his Badger and Red Squirrel 🙂 A Green Woodpecker yaffled from the wooded slopes below us and Goldcrests, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Robins could all be heard.

Heading towards the border a Dipper sat on a rock at the water’s edge, bobbing up and down before heading upstream in a whirr of wing beats.  Red Grouse was found soon after heading up onto the moors around Newcastleton and the next addition to the trip list was probably the highlight of the day (apart from the Badger…).  The next grouse was well hidden, with only it’s head visible but, as I stopped the car to let everyone have a good look at it, it raised itself from the heather and revealed it’s true identity; a stunning male Black Grouse, resplendent in the day’s only real attempt at sunshine.  He wasn’t alone though, as two more Blackcock appeared from amongst the heather and eventually a total of five flew across the road and settled again.

After a picnic stop in one of my favourite places, we went in search of Wild Goats. It didn’t take too long to find one and, as is often the case, once you’ve found one you soon find more.  This prompted the following exchange in the back of the car “That goat’s got a baby” “You’re kidding me”…

Heading back towards Northumberland a flock of Fieldfares were on telegraph wires and two Great Spotted Woodpeckers were perched at the top of a small tree by the road.  A walk to the hide at Bakethin produced Goldeneye, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Pochard and one of Northumberland’s more exotic inhabitants rounded off the day as we watched at least five Mandarins, including three gaudy drakes and two subtly beautiful ducks in a tributary of the north Tyne.

The weather was an experience, we had some excellent wildlife to enjoy, and we hardly saw another person all day…but what really made the day for me was having six clients who all got on so well with each other, were really enthusiastic about birdwatching and wildlife and provided a steady level of entertainment throughout the day 🙂

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Lightning strikes twice

by on May.11, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Harwood, Northumberland

Trips with existing clients are always a pleasure, not only because it’s very gratifying to get a booking from someone we’ve taken out before, but also because we already have shared memories.  I had 3 things vivid in my mind from when I took Pete and Janet out in September 2008 – it rained, we saw 11 adult Mediterranean Gulls on the beach at Newbiggin and Janet found an Otter.

I collected Pete and Janet from their holiday cottage in Embleton, and we headed across to Sharperton to collect David and Mary.  They’re all members of the same Natural History Society, who were our first group booking, back in 2009, and we always enjoy catching up with them, and the other members of their group, at the Bird Fair each August.  Tuesday was a bespoke trip, combining Harwood and Druridge Bay, and the weather forecast suggested that it wouldn’t rain…

As we approached Harwood a Roe Deer crossed the track, walked into the trees and then stopped to watch us.  This was the first of 11 that we saw on our journey through the forest (well, it was about 11, and if I say 11, it’ll help the punchline to this post!).

Harwood again produced memorable sightings; Roe Deer, Tree Pipit, at least 3 Cuckoos, Siskins, plenty of Crossbills, more Roe Deer and a mouth-wateringly attractive male Common Redstart.  A list of species can never really do justice to just how good encounters with wildlife can be though; as 2 Roe Deer bounded across the clearfell area beside the track, 2 Cuckoos were engaged in a frantic chase, calling frequently and mobbed by Meadow Pipits every time they left the safety of the trees, while the male Redstart flicked along the edge of a nearby plantation, red tail shivering as he perched on a tree stump, black face contrasting with his white forehead and supercilium, the subtle grey of his crown and mantle and the orangy-red of his breast.

As we tucked in to our picnic lunch, overlooking a very calm North Sea, the first drops of icy rain began to patter down.  Then, a comment from Janet to set the pulse racing “I’m sure I just saw a fin”.  With such calm water the sudden appearance of black shapes at the surface stood out, and Janet had found yet another exciting mammal on a NEWT safari.  This time it wasn’t the sleek, sinuous predator of our lakes and rivers, but another sleek, sinuous predator. We watched for several minutes as the pod of Bottlenose Dolphins moved slowly south.  At least 6 animals, including a very small calf, they surfaced lazily every 30seconds or thereabouts as I texted observers further south to let them know what was coming.

Avocet, Garganey (2 handsome drakes), Common Sandpiper, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, clouds of Swifts, Swallows and martins, and weather best described as changeable, all contributed to an excellent afternoon around Druridge before I completed our circular route, dropping Pete and Janet, and then David and Mary.  See you at the BirdFair 🙂

So, it rained, we saw 11(ish) Roe Deer in Harwood and Janet found some Bottlenose Dolphins

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A trip within a trip

by on May.09, 2012, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

“Is Sarah keeping you organised and under control?” – that was a question I was actually asked by a client who I took out, for their second trip, recently.  Now, I’m the first to admit that organisation isn’t really one of my strengths, but the other owner of NEWT encourages me 😉

With four clients, and three separate pick-up locations, for our Kielder Safari last Friday, there was plenty of opportunity for the plan to not go smoothly.  However, with Neil collected from his accommodation at The Swan, and Ken and Paddy collected from Low Hauxley, we pulled into the car park at The Pheasant Inn in Kielder at 10:00 – exactly the time I’d said I would be there to collect Roger, our fourth participant for the day.

As we drove through the forest, home of Roe Deer, Red Squirrel and Goshawk, on rough tracks we stopped to watch a Great Spotted Woodpecker perched at the top of a very flimsy spruce, Common Buzzards soared over nearby plantations, Meadow Pipits flitted across the track ahead of us, Chaffinches were singing from what seemed like every tree and a flock of 20 or so Common Crossbills moved through the trackside trees, pausing to nibble at cones, and constantly giving their ‘chip, chip’ calls.  As we continued, a mixed flock of Common Crossbills and Siskins suddenly erupted from the trees.  These two colourful denizens of the dark forests often seem outrageously bright against the dark green foliage, and are always well appreciated by our clients.

Other moorland and upland specialities followed as we headed through the afternoon; Red Grouse, picking their way through the heather, Goosander flying upstream in remote narrow valleys, Ravens – tumbling, cronking and having a real battle with Carrion Crows –  and one of my personal favourites, Wild (Feral) Goats. The collective noun for them is a ‘trip’, coincidentally the same as for one of our favourite birds, the Dotterel – a mountain and moorland specialist that we’ve yet to find on a NEWT Safari 🙂

With shared interests including photography, fly fishing and, of course, a deep love of Northumberland there was plenty of discussion amongst everyone during the day.  Vast forest, small world…

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Kielder Safari 05/04/2012

by on Apr.07, 2012, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

After Tuesday’s snow, sleet and general murk, and Wednesday’s icy breeze, I prepared for Thursday’s Kielder Safari by loading as many layers of technical clothing as I could into the back of the car…but, as I headed north to Felton to collect Lindsay and Abbie, I was glad that I’d included sunglasses in my kit list for the day 🙂

We drove west through Rothbury, Elsdon and Otterburn, in absolutely stunning light that really showed Northumberland at it’s best, along roads where the verges were still snow-covered and the temperature was sub-zero, past flocks of Fieldfares and Redwings gathering pre-migration, to collect Victoria and Paul from Bellingham before heading along the forest tracks towards Hawkhope.  Only a few hundred yards from the public road we were soon watching a stunning male Common Crossbill.  More Crossbills followed, then some outrageously bright Siskins. Common Buzzards were soaring over the plantations (it turned out to be a excellent raptor day – although the ‘Phantom of the Forest’ eluded us), Chaffinches seemed to be along every step of the way, Great Spotted Woodpeckers played their usual game of hide-and-seek and even the humble Meadow Pipits were subjected to great scrutiny.  As Lindsay commented as we watched one pipit, elevated above it’s usual status of LBJ by the superb light, “it’s nice to have views in the field, of a feature that you’ve read about in a field guide”.  He was referring to the long hind-claw of the pipit and, with our subject perched just a few metres away and very obliging, this led on to a discussion of pipit identification.  When we finally returned to the C200 we’d been off-road for over two and a half hours – a new longevity record for that 10 mile section of our route, and an excellent measure of just how many birds we’d stopped and studied.

Up over the border our lunch break, after watching a pair of Curlews as they called on a bit of high moorland, was accompanied by a pair of Ravens chasing off a Kestrel that had strayed over their nest site, a territorial skirmish involving 2 pairs of Common Buzzards, Pied Wagtails flycatching over the stream and 3 Goosanders looking resplendentOur post-lunch walk produced more Common Buzzards, another Kestrel, a Peregrine powering it’s way down the valley and a small group of Wild Goats including a tiny kid.  As we returned to the car a pair of Ravens appeared along the ridge, soared up against the sky and then began tumbling and calling.

Our final section of the trip was the Forest Drive between Kielder and Byrness; currently closed to the public because of forestry activity, and the state of the road surface, we’d been given permission by the Forestry Commission to use the track, which we had to ourselves for the afternoon.  A Raven soared close to a Common Buzzard, a pair of Stonechats were next to the road at Kielderhead and we came across an excellent mixed flock of finches; Common Crossbills, Siskins and Lesser Redpolls (which we’d earlier heard but not seen) in one small area of spruce, pine and birch.

We dropped Victoria and Paul back in Bellingham, and headed east towards the coastal plain as the light faded at the end of a 12 hour Safari Day.  12 hour days as a birdwatching guide, in some extraordinary landscapes with stunning wildlife, leave you feeling energised…don’t think I would have said the same while I was a teacher 🙂

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Birding with a touch of luxury

by on Mar.31, 2012, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Kielder, Northumberland

Delivering a birding package for the first time with a new partner is always a mixture of excitement and worry; will the experience we deliver to our clients blend well with the standards of service, accommodation and food that are provided?  Our exclusive Doxford Hall birding break on Thursday and Friday didn’t hold too many worries though – I’ve attended conferences and other events there before and, having known David Hunter since he was at Matfen Hall, I knew that the entire Doxford experience would be a memorable one for all the right reasons.

I arrived first thing Thursday morning to collect Paul and Sue, who had won their exclusive birding break in a competition that ourselves and Doxford Hall ran recently in Birdwatch magazine.  Our original plan of Druridge Bay on Thursday, Lindisfarne on Friday, had been altered following a ‘phone call during the week from Sue – there was one species they particularly wanted to see, and our recent blog posts had revealed that now might be a good time…so, after a day of hectic communication with the Forestry Commission to arrange access through Kielder, and check where along our route there would be any forestry activity, our first trip headed inland.  We started at Harwood in near-perfect weather conditions; warm, sunny and with a good breeze.  Common Buzzards, Common Crossbills, Siskins and a very vocal Raven were all seen but no Goshawk so we continued west.  Once we were in Kielder another Raven entertained us, tumbling and cronking over a remote farmhouse in the warm afternoon sunshine before soaring heavenwards and then dropping back out of the sky alongside its mate.  We stopped to scan over another plantation, where I’ve watched Goshawks previously, and I soon spotted a bird just above the trees. He quickly got into a thermal and rose until we lost sight of him.  I suggested that we just needed to wait for a Common Buzzard to drift over the Gos’ territory, and we began a patient vigil.  Eventually a Common Buzzard did appear, we all lifted our binoculars to focus on it…and a distant speck in the binoculars above the buzzard grew rapidly larger as the Goshawk dropped out of the sky.  The intruder thought better of hanging around and quickly folded it’s wings back and crossed the valley like an arrow.  Having shepherded the buzzard away, the Phantom of the Forest rose quickly again to resume his sentinel watch.  More Common Crossbills and Common Buzzards followed as we travelled down the valley back towards civilisation, and 2 pairs of Mandarin brought a touch of stunning colour to the afternoon.

Dinner at Doxford Hall on Thursday evening was exceptional (outstanding food and outstanding levels of service throughout the 2 days), and having clients with such an enthusiasm for birding, and fantastic sense of humour, made it even better.  After dinner conversation did reveal that there was an obvious gap in their life-lists though…

Friday’s plan was simple; head to the coast and then bird our way down it to finish in Druridge Bay late afternoon.  We started at Harkess Rocks, in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, with a very nice flock of 79 Purple Sandpipers.  In the heavy swell a flock of Common Scoters proved elusive, Common Eiders dived through the surf, small rafts of Common Guillemot and Razorbill bobbed about, Gannets soared effortlessly, Sandwich Terns were feeding just offshore and Long-tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers in breeding finery were a reminder that our winter visitors are about to pack their bags and head north.  Red-throated Divers, including one bird with a very red tinge to it’s throat, were typically elusive, diving just as we got onto them.  I’d got another species in mind though and, when I found one, it was sitting obligingly next to a Red-throated Diver.  Soon, Paul and Sue were admiring the elegant structure, neat contrasty plumage and white flank patch of their first Black-throated Diver. 2 days, 2 lifers 🙂

We headed south and, after watching an adult Mediterranean Gull, and two 2nd calendar year birds, winter and spring came together with flocks of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, and a Short-eared Owl, being characteristic of the last 5 months of our coastal trips, Green Sandpiper and Whimbrel on passage and a male Marsh Harrier drifting over a coastal reedbed.

In beautiful afternoon light, with the sound of the roaring surf of the North Sea crashing into the east coast, the Short-eared Owl quartering a nearby reedbed and a pair of Great Crested Grebes displaying on the pool in front of us, a couple of comments by Sue – two of many memorable ones during the trip 😉 – summed things up nicely “chilled-out birding” and “we like the view from Martin’s office” 🙂

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Creatures of habit

by on Mar.26, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Harwood, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

After our first ever Harwood Safari on Saturday, our second came quickly 0n it’s heels.  I’d driven through some patchy, but dense, fog on the way to collect Judith and Kevin but as headed towards Harwood we found ourselves in some extraordinarily good weather.  The view from the Gibbet was better than on Saturday, and a male Goshawk was seen briefly as he passed along the top of the plantation in the distance.

Crossbills and Siskins were again in evidence as we drove the forest tracks and a Grey Wagtail  was catching flies on the surface of a ditch as we watched a Common Buzzard soaring overhead, and a pair of Common Toads, the male clasped tightly to the female’s back, crossed the track ahead of us. We stopped to watch over the plantation where we’d had 2 Goshawks on Saturday, and soon a Common Buzzard soared into view.  Almost immediately the male Goshawk rose out of the trees and began displaying high overhead, before finding a thermal that was obviously to his liking and ascending rapidly out of sight, presumably to keep a close eye on his territory.

The second half our our day was spent around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  As we checked rivers and pools, the assembled birdlife wasn’t disturbed by anything other than more birds; Black-headed Gulls were harassing a Grey Heron, Goldeneye, Mallards, and Teal were following other Goldeneye, Mallards and Teal, full of the joys of spring, and Canada Geese were busy showing that even Canada Geese don’t like Canada Geese 🙂  As we left Druridge Bay behind and headed towards Blaydon, the countryside was bathed in an almost sublime light.  10 hour working days have never seemed so attractive 😉

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Breaking new ground

by on Mar.26, 2012, under Birdwatching, Harwood, Northumberland

Since we started NEWT we’ve always tried to innovate and keep our tours refreshed.  Saturday gave me the opportunity to do something that really was innovative – our first Harwood Safari.  We’ve walked the route 5 times during the last 3 winters, but driving it was something of an unknown quantity.

As a business we’re happy to support the Northumberland Wildlife Trust.  As well as being a corporate member of the trust, we sponsor the under 13 and 13-18 age categories of the NWT Annual Photography competition.  Saturday’s Harwood trip was the prize for last year’s 13-18 winner and his dad.  When I collected them from Newbiggin it was worryingly misty, but as we headed inland the mist began to lift.

We started at the viewpoint near Winter’s Gibbet, where Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Crossbill, Siskin, Goldcrest, Lesser Redpoll and Chiffchaff were all calling or singing.  As the mist over the forest lifted, it was time to break new ground as we headed off along tracks with no vehicle access to the public.  More Crossbills and Siskins were in the trackside trees and Common Buzzards were soaring high overhead giving their mewing calls.  Soon after lunch we stopped to check out a distant raptor over the plantation on the opposite side of a clearfell area.  Within a minute we were watching 3 Common Buzzards…and a pair of Goshawks that had risen out of the trees to shepherd the buzzards away!  As the buzzards moved on the Goshawks quickly melted back into the obscurity of the trees.

A stop to search for Adders didn’t produce any of these fearsome reptiles, but we did find a dozen Common Lizards, lazing in the sunshine and then scuttling out of sight.

Our first Harwood Safari, the air filled with raptors, trees filled with Crossbills…looks like a winner 🙂

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